India: Police under fire for using violence to enforce coronavirus lockdown

World Saturday 28/March/2020 17:45 PM
By: Times News Service
India: Police under fire for using violence to enforce coronavirus lockdown

Authorities in India have come under fire after videos surfaced on social media showing officers hitting and demeaning people on the street to enforce the country's 21-day coronavirus lockdown.

Shashi Tharoor, a lawmaker with the opposition Indian National Congress, called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday to stop police from using violent force.

"I have no doubt that most police personnel are doing a commendable job in these difficult times. However, those who brutalize citizens are bringing disrepute to the efforts of all others," Tharoor wrote in a letter posted on Twitter.

He noted that "vigilantes" have also been spotted standing on corners and beating those who defy the lockdown orders.

"We are better than this," Tharoor added.

Inquiry launched into ambulance driver's death

Tharoor's letter followed the circulation of several videos and images online depicting police brutality after the imposition of a 21-day lockdown in India to slow the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.

On Friday, authorities launched an inquiry into the death of an ambulance driver in the Indian city of Pune who was allegedly beaten by police, a national newspaper reported. Police suspected him of transporting passengers illegally in his vehicle.

A national newspaper also reported that a 32-year old man in the state of West Bengal died on Wednesday after being wounded by police. The man's family claims he was hit when he ventured out to buy milk.

Earlier this week, the sale of essential services, such as grocery and food deliveries, were temporarily disrupted in the state of Maharashtra — where the cities of Pune and Mumbai are located — after reports emerged that people venturing out were being beaten by the police.

Uddhav Thackeray, the Chief Minister of the state of Maharashtra, urged the state's head of police to reign-in officers following reports of indiscriminate beatings, reported a national newspaper.

Prohibitory law allows police to arrest, but not use force

India has invoked Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which prohibits the assembly of four or more people, to ensure that people don't venture out during the lockdown and to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Indians violating section 144 can be arrested and detained by the police. However, the government hasn't authorized the police to use force to impose the lockdown.

Over the past week, several politicians, celebrities and journalists have highlighted police violence against migrant workers who are venturing out during the lockdown. The measures have forced migrant laborers to travel back to their homes on foot after losing their jobs in urban areas.

Numerous reports have emerged of police targeting people venturing out to buy essential goods or working in essential services such as medicine. The police have reportedly beaten people with sticks and in certain instances, forced them to crawl or do pushups.